New listing: Vintage St. Dymphna

st dymphna medal (4)
Currently available at Etsy.

This delicate, lightweight necklace features a vintage aluminum holy medal with St. Gerebernus on one side and St. Dymphna on the other. I got the medal from Belgium but it was made in Germany. I can’t date it precisely, but my guess is between 1950 and 1990.

The St. Gerebernus side is in Latin and the St. Dymphna side in English, both saying “pray for us.” It’s one inch long and hangs from a dainty 18 inch silver-tone ball chain necklace, set off with a tiny beaded drop with frosted Czech glass beads in blue-green and bronze.

St. Dymphna is a very popular saint to call on against madness, anxiety, depression, and epilepsy. She’s also the patron saint of runaways and survivors of incest and sexual abuse. She is called on by those who suffer from mental illness and by those who treat the sufferers of mental illness.

Dymphna – whose  name would have been something like Damhnait or Davnet before it was Latinized – is thought to have lived some time between 500 and 720-ish A.D. in Ireland. (The sources and scholars don’t agree and there’s no historical record dating anywhere close to when she would have lived, if she’s even really a historical figure — there’s only oral tradition and legend until hundreds of years later). [*] She fled to Belgium as a young teenager from a very troubled home life. accompanied by her confessor, the elderly priest St. Gerebernus or Gereberne.

The martyrologies are chock full of murderous guys who like to kill totally peaceful Christians in very gruesome ways, but even with all the bloodshed and decapitation and suffering in these annals, St. Dymphna’s father still manages to stand out as one of the biggest ass-hats of them all.

He apparently went a little nuts after his beloved wife, who’d been a Christian, died. Pressed to remarry, he ultimately decided only his own teenage daughter, who so strongly resembled his dead wife, would fit the bill.

Well, incest is gross, but even beyond that, Dymphna had also become a Christian and dedicated her virginity to Christ, so this whole thing was a double helping of nope as far as she was concerned. She and Gerebernus took off for Belgium and hid out at the monastery of St. Martin for a while. But her father caught up with them, had his servants kill the priest, and cut off his own daughter’s head. So that’s why she’s invoked against madness, because she steadfastly faced the madness of her father, keeping her cool in the face of such onslaught, and was martyred in the preservation of her virginity.

Gerard_Seghers_-_Martyrdom_of_St_Dymphna_and_St_Gerebernus
Gerard Seghers – Martyrium des hl. Dymphna und des hl. Gerbert (Martyrdom of St Dymphna and St Gerebernus). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Held by Staatsgalerie im Neuen Schloss Schleißheim.

St. Gerebernus is the patron saint of Sonsbeck in what’s today North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

Epileptics, the insane, and the possessed have been said to receive miraculous cures at Dymphna’s tomb, and in older literature and art especially, she’s portrayed as vanquishing a demon at her feet and is given the title of Demon Slayer. You can’t tell it from modern holy cards these days, but Dymphna is kind of a badass. Just leaving aside for the moment the problems with personifying or even demonizing mental illness, the fact remains that practically speaking, she’s a great source of comfort and aid to many sufferers of mental disorders and anxiety as well as their loved ones who pray for them.

C. Christopher Smith at the Englewood Review of Books put her forward as a fitting patron saint for the #MeToo movement.

Saints Dymphna, Michael, and Benedict are a trio that’s hard to beat when it comes to protection / defense work. Between the three of them, they’re quite the spiritual army and they can anchor and defend the faithful in body, soul, and mind against chaotic onslaught and demonic siege.

For even more info and resources on saints and their lore in folk religious practice, visit The Chapel: Karma Zain and follow the tags.


[*] Sources

The Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae of John Colgan, reproduced at the Ordnance Survey, Dublin. Reflex facsimiles, Irish Manuscript Commission 5, 1947.

Kirsch, Johann Peter. St. Dymphna.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. Accessed 25 Apr. 2020.

O’Hanlon, John Canon. Lives of the Irish Saints, vol. 6. Dublin: James Duffy and Sons, 1873.

Smith, William and Henry Wace. A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines, vols. 1 and 2. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1877.

Resources

Novena in Honor of Saint Dymphna at CatholicSaints.info